Ricky Baruc, at Seeds of Solidarity Farm in Orange MA, has been an avid proponent of what he calls "The Cardboard Method" - a "no-till" seed bed preparation protocol he's been using for several years in his small scale commercial production. He places sheets of cardboard - appliance and furniture boxes form a local warehouse - directly on new ground, then covers it with mulch hay. At planting time, he pierces the cardboard, makes a small hole, fills it with compost, then plants into that hole. Voila! a permanent mulched bed. Well, nothing radical or new about mulched beds...
The secret ingredient appears to be he cardboard layer. Earthworms love it - most likely the protein in the hide glue that binds the layers. Masses of earthworms are drawn to the cardboard - and on their way they perform all the "tillage" the beds seem to need and enrich the soil with their fertile castings.
Ricky has led many workshops teaching people how they can transform lawn, sod, recently cleared unbroken land into productive gardens using this method. He's demonstrated it can be used to farm commercially. He has lots of ideas about why and how it works, but also a desire to "dig a little deeper" and "get to the root" of it.
Last December, we got together and wrote a proposal for a SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) farmer grant, to investigate the properties of the soil and the plants grown in these type of beds.
We were fortunate to receive the award, and now with this early spring, have started the process of establishing 12 test plots at the farm where we will create beds in an attempt to pick apart what part of the method attracts the earthworms, measure the changes in soil properties, and measure the nutrient and mineral properties of the crops grown.
And we will document it all right here for you to follow along - as well as in a set of "TV Plots" that will have video tutorials of the process - we want you to try this at home!